Ergonomics 101: What This Latest Office Trend is All About

workplace-ergonomics-xeniumhrErgonomics has taken over the office world today as ergonomic chairs, desks, keyboards, mouse pads, monitor arms, reading boards, lighting, and cushions have flooded the market. Ergonomic furnishings come with the promise of a more productive, more energetic, more comfortable, and healthier work environment. But what exactly is ergonomics and why has this latest office trend generated so much hype?

Ergonomics Defined

The word “ergonomics” itself is derived from the Greek “ergos,” meaning work, and “nomos,” meaning natural law. By definition, the science of ergonomics studies the relationship between the capabilities of the human body and workplace designs, with the goal of improving the fit between human beings and their physical surroundings. In the case of office furniture, ergonomic scientists are busy making sure your personal workspace is designed to keep you maximally comforted, energized, and properly aligned, thereby preventing painful office-related injuries which strain the musculoskeletal structure and cause short-term or long-term damage.

For instance, improper sitting posture – which can mean either slouching too low or sitting too upright – can wreak havoc on your back and cause neck/shoulder strain and pain. Likewise, remaining sedentary for hours on end (i.e. sitting in front of your computer screen or behind a desk) can lead to stiff joints and muscles, leg cramping, poor circulation, and overall bodily strain. Also on the rise are cumulative stress disorders in office settings, resulting from stretching or straining the body in unnatural ways or when a task is consistently incorrectly performed over a period of time.

Ergonomic Office Chairs versus Traditional Chairs

The key to sitting well is maintaining the natural curvature of your spine (your vertebral column has three “normal curves”: an inward curve near your neck, an outward curve at your midback, and an inward lumbar curve near your waist; when all three of these curves are in their resting/normal states, there is minimal strain to the back). Ergonomic chairs are thus constructed to support the natural contours of the spinal cord and to provide essential lumbar (low back) support.

Since no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to seating, ergonomic office chairs feature a slew of adjustable mechanisms which can be customized for each user’s physique. If you’re shopping for a new office chair, look for the following features of a good ergonomic office chair:

  • Adjustable height mechanism
  • Adjustable arm rests
  • Adjustable tilt options (allowing for varying sitting positions)
  • Full swivel (for a full range of motion which prevents strain)
  • Lumbar support
  • Chair back with some ‘give’ in it, allowing you to lean back and alleviate pressure to the legs and back
  • Accessories such as a lumbar cushion, neck pillow, or gel seat cushion

While traditional chairs offer a static sitting posture which creates stress to the back, legs, and thighs, ergonomic chairs allow you to change positions throughout the day, thereby increasing blood flow, reducing stress on the spinal cord, and reducing the risk of injury and fatigue.

Features of an Ergonomic Office Desk

Here’s what to look for if you’re in the market for an ergonomic office desk:

  • Adjustable height (allowing you to stretch your legs out under the desk while you work)
  • Ample desktop space (allowing you to easily reach for frequently used items)
  • Adjustable monitor shelf (to prevent shoulder, neck, and eye strain, the experts recommend 20 inches between you and your computer screen)
  • Consider purchasing a sit-stand desk, the most highly engineered ergonomic office desk to date. A remote control raises and lowers the desk, allowing you to alternate between sitting and standing positions throughout the workday, which improves circulation and reduces strain to the back)

Going Ergo

If your office is going ergo, go all the way by investing in an:

  • Ergonomic Monitor Arm (also known as a monitor riser, LCD arm, or laptop arm), which allows you allow you to adjust your screen higher/lower and closer/further away
  • Ergonomic Task Lighting, allowing you to minimize glare and control the amount of brightness per task
  • Angled Reading Board, holding documents in a back-and-neck-friendly position, thereby minimizing neck muscle tension and strain

Finally, be sure to take healthy “ergo breaks” by stretching regularly and by learning about desk exercises which provide upper and lower back pain relief.

This post is a contribution of a guest blogger and not of Xenium HR. The author, Susie Brown, is a FastUpFront Blog contributor and business author.